By Rev. Nancy S. Hildebrand
About ten years ago, my middle daughter shared an anecdote with me about a conversation between her two kids, mine and Peter’s grandchildren. This anecdote has survived the intervening years, because it startled me so. The story goes like this: Emily says, “Leo just told Beatrice that one day she would be a teenager just like their neighbor”. Emily says, “instead of clapping her hands with glee, she reacted vehemently with the words, “No, my name is Beatrice Oona and I am only one person”. That was the end of that discussion. Obviously, the two-year old mind is not ready to envision much of a life beyond the present; it is all they know. However, her words, “I am only one person” meant to me that she was developing a strong sense of herself. I am sure that sense was influenced by her warm, loving upbringing. Of course, it was, but that was not what she was saying. She could not envision being a teenager because she was two, but her words indicated self- knowledge that was more substantial than not being to conceive of being a teenager. I believe that what she knew about herself then was some sense of the ineffable intuition about her deepest self that I see manifesting in her today in her twelfth year. She not only has this same centeredness but an adolescent vocabulary to express it. To this day she carries that same serenity, reflectiveness, assurance and determination. This Beatrice story reminds me that our biblical account of Jesus’ youth reveals that he, too, had this inner self-knowledge as well at a young age. The story about Jesus being found at the Temple in Jerusalem shows him to be not only self-aware, but a prodigy. He already had a strong intuition about his deepest self, his substance and understood his gifts. He was a natural. Yet, as we know, that as he was a child like no other, we must remember that he was a child like all others, too. His similarities, his essence and his life experiences, so close to ours, are keys to why we feel so close to him in his divine essence. The two aspects of his nature
inspires us to introspection about not only our own humanity but the divine spark within us endowed since our creation and lifts us to our own potential of Christ-likeness. Two millennia
of theological scholarship has not seriously cracked the mystery of the equation of divine presence and human potential. Rationality has never conquered the idea. We take it by faith as we that it is the germ and goad and gift lifting all humanity ever since Christ manifested it.
When Jesus came home to Nazareth, he brought this dilemma squarely to their attention. He was going home to people who knew him as a precocious child and teenager and as a spiritually and physically productive member of the village. When he returned to the Village after his baptism, temptation in the wilderness and the beginning ministry of healing in Capernaum, he was welcomed to the honor seat of the synagogue. It is reasonable to assume that he had been in the reader’s seat before. His learning had to be celebrated locally after his encounter in the Temple in Jerusalem at twelve.
Like a loving grandmother who cannot keep a delightful two-year old child at two years old forever, neither can a Galilean village, or any hometown expect that their special child all grown up will always be the same or, even, always be with them. It is, however, reasonable to think that his hometown family and friends would think that they had a special claim on him and might even be entitled to a little extra attention. We are familiar with this feeling with our returning children.
He did return to “just be” with the villagers on the Sabbath, but he also came to honor them with his announcement about his anointed role as the appearance of the One who would bring to them “The Year of the Lord’s Favor.” The villagers were prepared for Jesus as their own prodigy and hoped for some of the healings that he made at Capernaum.
Jesus’ visit seemed ordinary at the beginning and the villagers were in awe, but perplexed. Something different was in the air and Jesus said, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town”, they were doubtless on edge. Was he a prophet? Jesus said it, himself, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”. Jesus came home because everyone must in some way, somehow, but he came home to make an announcement not made yet to anyone else or by anyone else ever. It was good news and hard news. Doubtless, they would as Jesus said they would, tell him, “Physician heal thyself”. The Good news of Jesus as the manifestation of “the Lord’s favor” was, in effect, his revelation to his family and friends that he was the Messiah and his announcement that the exclusivity of God’s favor was not now nor ever in effect. He honored them with this good news knowing it would be hard to understand, and he gave them tough medicine of God’s universal love that they would understand and reject.
The Villagers might have adjusted a little more easily to the good news part if he had not delivered it with the tough medicine, that God loved all people inclusively. The year of the “Lord’s favor” had long been expected but is always hard to believe or accept when it finally arrives. It disrupts the status quo and certainly, the tough medicine that the favor of God that was expected just for them had to be shared with others was received by them as blasphemy. It was as if Jesus had put a grenade down on the floor of synagogue. To point out that two the greatest prophets of all Jewish history, Elijah and Elisha, healed gentiles during times when none in Israel were healed, just could not be allowed to stand. They didn’t take any time to ponder this statement before they, filled with rage, chased him to the cliff on the edge of the village to be killed. This event foreshadowed Christ’s death and resurrection. It has also foreshadowed the death of tyranny and the resurrection of humanity in many ways ever since.
Jesus got the message across, clearly, to the villagers, but I do not think it mattered much to them what he said about “prophets and hometowns”. There was not any latitude within this prophet’s home to be accepted unless he acted as he always had and performed some miracles. They probably did not think that the prophets they embraced were not popular in their time and probably did not actually notice that Elijah and Elisha said and did things that these villagers would ram them off a cliff as well. The people of Nazareth promptly proved Jesus right.
We have examples of this in our own not too distant past, World War I and II heroes who happened to be black returned home knowing that they were heroes and expected a different reception than the one they got. In WWI, they came home not expecting total change but still expected improvement. They also came home less willing to take the harassment that was normal when they left and when they returned home. There was no appreciation at home for these black soldiers. They had fought and risked their lives for freedom and for their country, now they wanted it at home.
Black veterans were persecuted on a criminal scale after both wars. After WWII, black veterans, like Hosea Williams, Medgar Evers, Charles Sims and Ernest Thomas were heroically determined to make the democratic freedoms for which they fought, relevant to the democratic liberation of black people at home. Well, home towns can be punishing, but they are also the launching pads for heroes and prophets. At the Memphis’ sanitation workers strike on February 1st, 1968. The streets were filled with men carrying signs, “I AM A MAN”. The black soldiers were not carrying those signs, but those words were emblazoned on their faces and their hearts.
The “year of the Lord’s favor” has a rich and complicated history, throughout the prophets, especially in Isaiah and also in Leviticus where the cycle of the Jubilee year is described five times in four verses. Jubilee, the divine requirement of redemption of the slaves and the debtors was found in the person of Jesus. Jubilee is an emblem for the Kingdom of God which has come near in the person of Jesus. What Jesus left out from his Messianic/Jubilee announcement in Luke is the older texts prediction of the vengeance of the Lord. Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s will that God’s favor is for liberty of the captives, for good news to the poor, the recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. The good news is here. Jesus blessed the Nazarenes with the Good News and he survived their violent reaction and then left them to digest his announcement and to make their decision to follow him or not.
Many of us who are acquainted illness know that that the prescriptions for acute illness are often unpleasant. We have to endure the distractions from our lives that illness insists upon. We have to endure medical regimes which are sometimes expensive and painful. Worse, we do not know if any of it will do any good. We may have to deal with a fearful sense that God is not with us. Yet, in our deepest suffering, God regularly appears to revive our spirits, to give us the experience of divine love and to bring us hope for all possible healing. The prescriptions for an ailing world also require some tough medicine. We need to develop a desire and plan for the well-being of the world, not just our own personal health. We need to look honestly at our personal misery and at our role in the misery of the world at large. Our health is more than our physical health; it is our mental and spiritual health. How we are, the substance of whom we are, has a big impact on the people who are close to us and whom are far away.
Let us see if we can touch the child within us who knew something important at a very young age about being. Let’s look closely at ourselves and make honest self-assessments; let’s also make honest assessments about how we are doing nationally as a world leader with has gargantuan impacts on planetary health. We are not miracle workers, but God has given us the ability to yearn for the year of God’s favor, to reach out to the gift offered and then which allows us to receive it. Somehow, by God’s grace, miracles occur. Let us not be the villagers in any case, small or large in our lives, let us follow Jesus path towards the Jubilee, towards the Kingdom of God.
Christ proclaimed the year of God’s favor and he set it in motion. We are his instruments with his help to complete it. As we acknowledge in The Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done”, let us say. Amen. Amen.